Top Conflict Specialist and celebrated author of several bestselling books on security and strategy, Jaideep Saikia speaks to Lt Gen (Retd) D. S. Hooda, Former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command about certain aspects that beleaguer India’s National Security.
On the India-China Boundary
Gen Hooda: The standoff at the LAC in Eastern Ladakh is now more than two years old and shows little signs of a final resolution. Even if partial disengagement takes place in some areas like PP-15 (as is expected), it is unlikely that the LAC would see a return to the “peace and tranquility” that existed prior to China’s aggression in Ladakh in 2020. The PLA’s actions in May 2020 were in complete disregard to all Confidence Building Measures that had been put in place through bilateral agreements of 1993, 1996, 2005, and 2013. There is now a great deal of mistrust and suspicion about Chinese intentions, resulting in a larger strength of troops deployed along the LAC, and more vigilant behaviour.
For now, it is unlikely that either side will resort to the use of military force or therefore diplomacy must take centre stage. India has very clearly stated that the situation at the LAC has an adverse impact on the larger bilateral relations. It must continue to insist that normalization of relations is contingent on the pull back of PLA soldiers from the areas that they had occupied in 2020.
On the other hand, China wants the overall relations insulated from the happenings at the LAC. This is a somewhat unrealistic expectation, and if China continues to maintain this stance, it will only delay any resolution of the situation along the LAC.
Meanwhile, both sides are building infrastructure and improving their military capability along the LAC. With thousands of soldiers arrayed along the border and looking at each other with suspicion, the chances of some local incidents occurring cannot be ruled out.
Gen Hooda: The problem in Kashmir needs to be tackled at multiple levels. Pakistan continues to, directly and indirectly, support terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir. To counter this the Indian Government has demonstrated a firm resolve through diplomatic and military actions, and this has shown some positive results. Terrorist outfits in Kashmir have to be kept under check and again the security forces have largely ensured that through regular eliminations, the number of terrorists remains small. Terrorist groups will regularly change their tactics, just as we are seeing with the recent targeting killings of the minority communities. While these tactics must be countered, the terrorists just do not possess the capability to destabilize Kashmir in any significant way.
Where the government needs to give a greater push is in its outreach to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The extremely harsh lockdown after August 2019 and the continuing emphasis on a heavy-handed approach appear to have reinforced the feeling that the people of J&K are treated differently from the rest of the country.
Issues concerning identity, recognition, security, personal development, and tackling violent extremism need greater focus. The divide between Kashmir and Jammu, and the angst in the Kashmiri Pandit community need to be addressed. A population-centric approach is an answer towards finding a long-term resolution to the Kashmir problem.
Gen Hooda: There has been a significant reduction in violence levels in the Northeast, although a number of militant groups remain active, some operating from Myanmar. A resolution of the Naga problem could provide the much-needed impetus to bring normalcy to the region. However, six years after a Framework Agreement was signed between the government and the NSCN (IM) it appears that both sides had differing interpretations of the agreement. How these will be reconciled is difficult to say, but there is a certain groundswell for the peace accord to be finalized early. The removal of AFSPA from certain areas in the Northeast has also been welcomed.
Ethnic identity has played a key role in sustaining armed movements in the Northeast. We have to find ways to meet the aspirations of different groups through political empowerment, reconciliation, local autonomy etc. Some of these have been successfully attempted in the past. There is also a need to speedily rehabilitate the surrendered cadre who continue to stay in designated camps and are often engaged in fundraising and extortion.
Finally, the management of the Indo-Myanmar border needs significant improvement. This porous border enables insurgents in camps in Myanmar to move quite freely to carry out attacks on the Indian side. Roads and infrastructure should be built to support efficient border management.